Batman and Robin #1
“Born to Kill”
Writer: Peter J. Tomasi
Pencils: Patrick Gleason
Inks: Mick Gray
Colors: John Kalisz
Letters: Patrick Brosseau
Cover artists: Gleason & Gray
Editor: Mike Marts
Publisher: DC Comics
Price: $2.99 US
While the previous incarnation of this title was at its strongest when written by Grant Morrison, the creative teams that followed him did a good job of maintaining an edge and inventive tone he established from the start. So while this comic book appears to be the start of a new series, it’s really just a continuation of the previous one, and I fully expected to remain a fan. But there is something different with this new first issue, and it’s the central dynamic between the title characters. While the names remain the same, one of the characters is a different man, and that completely changes the tone of the book — and not for the better. The art remains interesting, preserving the same intense tone we’ve come to expect from this series, and given my affection for the previous incarnation of Batman and Robin, I’ll likely continue to read this title for another issue or two. But Tomasi needs to realize soon the Batman/Robin relationship works best when it’s one of contrast rather than stereophonic grumbling.
A new threat emerges on the world stage, and he goes by the codename Nobody. He’s got a bone with pick with the Batman and his burgeoning global crimefighting network, and he sets out to nip it in the bud, starting first with Batman Inc.’s new agent in Moscow. Meanwhile, back in Gotham, the original Batman and his son, the new Robin, struggle with the adjustment to a new partner — one another — and the transition isn’t going all that well. That’s unfortunate, because an unusual heist irradiated reactor coolant at a downtown university research facility promises to endanger Gothamites with a nuclear meltdown.
Penciller Patrick Gleason strives to establish a dark but mature tone here, and he succeeds for the most part. I get the feeling he’s trying to deliver visuals in the vein of J.H. (Batwoman) Williams III, and while the panel layouts don’t exhibit that artist’s innovative flair, Gleason manages to instill the same kind of the detail in the figures and faces of the various characters. He’s no doubt aided in this effort by inker Mick Gray, who’s worked often with Williams in the past. Of course, the Williams influence apparent in the art could be the result of Gray’s work rather than a concerted effort on Gleason’s part. Either way, the visuals are attractive and suit the dark world of the Batman. I was also reminded at times of the shadowy, exaggerated tone of one-time Batman artist Kelley Jones, and again, that’s a compliment to Gleason and Gray’s work here. However, I have to admit I wasn’t all that taken with the design for the Batman of Moscow. When I first glimpsed the new character on the first page, I thought it might be bane for moment, and the bare-chested look didn’t work for me.
While his motive is intriguing, my initial sense of the new villain, Nobody, is that he’s a fairly generic antagonist and that his gimmick ought not pose much of a challenge to Batman. I’m sure that’s not how it’ll play out, and I hope the villain proves to be more novel in concept than he seems thus far. We don’t get much of a sense of his design beyond his tech-laden mask, which is clearly meant to evoke a creepy, insect-like look, but it looks a little familiar somehow. I can’t put my finger on it, but again, the look strikes me as rather generic.
One of the things that was so interesting about Morrison’s run on Batman and Robin and other comics in the Batman family was his (and DC’s) willingness to shake up the status quo, and there’s a hint of the same attitude to be found in Tomasi’s story here. It’s been a long-standing tradition to have Batman visit Crime Alley on the anniversary of his parents’ death to honour their memory, and Tomasi explores that notion here, suggesting it kept Bruce Wayne mired in grief and the past. In this story, he opts to abandon that tradition and celebrate a different milestone in his parents’ lives, something more positive. It doesn’t really add to the drama, but from an emotional perspective, it strikes me as a healthier attitude. It shows Bruce Wayne can grow as a human being. Making such a chance now also makes sense in the context of the overall premise, as Bruce now finds himself thrust into the role of parent himself, albeit in an unconventional father/son relationship.
The main reason the previous volume of this series worked so well was how Morrison had reversed the dynamic between the Dynamic Duo. In the past, Robin served as a brighter counter to the Batman’s dark brooding nature. With former Boy Wonder Dick Grayson in the Batman role and the callous, ruthless Damien Wayne in the Robin costume, the light and dark roles were reversed, making for a new spin on the traditional hero/sidekick premise. But with Bruce and Damien together, that balance is gone. Two doubly dark characters aren’t achieving the same result. Their bitter exchanges aren’t fun at all; in fact, they’re a bit of a downer. The 10-year-old, dysfunctional sidekick is in desperate need of a more affirming influence, and it’s a little depressing to see he’s not getting what he needs. (Can you tell I’m a relatively new parent?) 6/10
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